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Children's Story Garden  >  Philadelphia Yearly Meeting(s)

Happy girl in field.

The Children's Story Garden

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting(s)


A supplementary note:

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting(s)

"Collected by a committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends," it says on the title page of this book. But the tag-line is misleading, even untrue. In point of fact, there were two Philadelphia Yearly Meetings when the collection was published, both of which gathered Friends in the broader area of Philadelphia (including parts of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland). In other parts of North America, there were at the time (and often still are) two, three or four yearly meetings claiming to represent Friends.

A historically-minded reader, picking up the book, might be interested to know which Philadelphia Yearly Meeting produced this storybook. The signs are not slow to reveal themselves to a discerning reader.

The split actually began in 1827 when Philadelphia Yearly Meeting split into two. This event was followed by a cascade of splits, called the "Great Separation," which divided Friends in other parts of the country as well. Unofficially known as "Orthodox" and "Hicksite," the two branches each claimed to represent the only authentic body of Quakers in America. In Philadelphia, the address of the main offices (and publishing operations) of the Yearly Meeting was often used as the significant indicator. One Yearly Meeting was known as Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Arch Street), and the other was known as Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Race Street). The "Race Street" – a.k.a. Hicksite – branch produced this book.

In 1954 the two PYMs reconciled their differences. Indeed, during the preceeding half century there had been a great deal of earnest work to find and establish common ground. One story in this collection, The Four Sous, documents the start of the American Friends Service Committee, which was a joint effort.

However, in 1920 the moment of reconciliation was still far in the future for Friends. Several features of the book betray the fact that a committee of the Hicksite yearly meeting produced it. For instance, Abington meetinghouse, in 1797, provides the setting for The Meeting That Would Not Break Up. The Abington Quarter section of PYM, centered on Abington Meeting, provided a strong base of support for the Hicksite yearly meeting. The story presumably serves to tacitly remind the reader that, in the split some thirty years later, many who had attended that meeting in their youth went on to become stalwart Hicksites.

John Comly, the main protagonist in the story The Plow, played a pivotal role in events leading to separation in Philadelphia, and he served as the break-away Hicksite yearly meeting's first Clerk. As historian Thomas Hamm points out, "John Comly and other leading Philadelphia Hicksites left their yearly meeting, apparently convinced that a temporary withdrawal would lessen tensions and then they would return." Comly was a moderate, chosen presumably in the hope that a reconciliation could soon be achieved. Alas, this was not to happen for well over a century.

(Hamm's book, The Transformation of American Quakerism, and Larry Ingle's Quakers in Conflict are good sources of information about the 19th-century divisions. See also an overview essay here, in this site.)

Aside from John Comly, four other 19th-c. Friends who appear in these stories were affiliated with the Hicksite branch – Jacob Ritter, Samuel Levick, Isaac Hopper, and Alice Jackson. Three others, at least nominally "Orthodox," are each exceptional in their own way.

Stephen Grellet, who appears in The Sermon in the Wilderness, is the true exception (as discussed in an essay elsewhere on this site).The narrative strength of the story (its veracity is sometimes doubted, however) seems to have carried it into this collection, despite Grellet's active involvement on the "orthodox" side of the divide.

John Greenleaf Whittier, a member of the Orthodox yearly meeting in New England, associated personally with Hicksite Quakers in their antislavery work. He amusedly called them "heretics" (with the quote-marks) in his personal letters, and he distanced himself from the bickering between the branches.

Rufus Jones is the third notable exception. His book A Boy's Religion, regarding his upbringing in the Orthodox branch of New England Yearly Meeting, is cited several times as a "Further reading." In the course of his later career, much of it in the Philadelphia area, Rufus Jones went on to contribute mightily to historical studies and organization-building (including the AFSC, mentioned above) that laid the foundation for reconciliation in the mid-20th century.

When read carefully, the book shows a noteworthy openness to non-Christian world religions, as well as an affinity toward the Unitarian Church. One story, Wise Rightly, comes from The Jataka, a collection of Buddhist "birth" stories, while another, The Little Cowherd Brother, is actually about Krishna, a Hindu deity.

One author cited repeatedly in the Index by theme at the end of the book is Francis Dadmun. A member of the Sunday School Committee of her Unitarian Church in Boston, she had two story collections — Living Together (1915) and Children of the Father (1916) — published by the Unitarian Church's Beacon Press. Those books may well have inspired the present collection, if the number of citations in this book is any indication.

The emergence of the Unitarian Church as a liberal spinoff from the Congregational Church in the late 1700s and early 1800s (link), and the new mix of religious thinking that came in that period, was an important context for the conflict that American Friends experienced in the first decades of the 1800s. Later, during the long decades after the 1827-28 separation, cordial relations between Unitarians and Hicksite Friends fed an important grudge that the Orthodox Friends often expressed about the Hicksites.

"Hicksites," by the way, were named after Elias Hicks, a minister from Long Island, New York. His relative Edward Hicks lived in the Philadelphia area and was the famous artist who painted many renditions of the Peaceable Kingdom (one version is in the upper left corner of webpages in this section). In many renditions, Edward Hicks paints a tree with one of its branches blasted or withered and another branch alive and growing. Knowing that Edward Hicks was also a Hicksite Friend, which branch do you think represented which?

These are some of the complexities hinted at, and not thoroughly explored in contextual commentary and footnotes to the stories in the Children's Story Garden. Meanwhile, we may also let the stories speak for themselves.

First story  ...>


Notes prepared in 2005 to accompany The Children's Story Garden, Stories collected by a committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting — Anna Pettit Broomell, Emily Cooper Johnson, Elizabeth W. Collins, Alice Hall Paxson, Annie Hillborn, and Anna D. White. Illustrated by Katharine Richardson Wireman and Eugenie M. Wireman. Published in 1920 by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.